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Queen Elizabeth II: 60 years of gay rights

Gay Star News looks back at the Commonwealth's journey to equality
Queen Elizabeth II is monarch of Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where homosexuality is still illegal and punishable by a prison sentence

When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in the early 50s, gay people were living in fear.

Depending on where they lived, they could be executed or imprisoned and most had no choice but to find loveless marriages.

Across six decades, the monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has seen great changes across her reign.

There is much more to do, because nine out of 14 countries where Elizabeth II is Queen still consider homosexuality to be a criminal act.

So we have picked out a few of the most important events in the Commonwealth realms in the journey to equality.

The 1950s

  • King George VI dies in 1952 passing the monarchy onto his eldest daughter Elizabeth. She is crowned Queen on 2 June 1953 and proclaimed head of the Commonwealth.
  • In 1954, British mathematician and code breaker Alan Turing dies after being forced to undergo reparative therapy to cure his sexuality. He accepts chemical castration as an alternative to prison.
  • British-Canadian journalist Peter Wildeblood is one of the first in the UK to publicly declare their sexuality. He is convicted alongside Lord Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rogers. The case leads to a 1957 report recommending the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

The 1960s

  • Jamaica proclaims Queen Elizabeth II their monarch in 1962. Sexual acts between men are still illegal and punishable by up to ten years in prison.
  • Barbados joins the Commonwealth in 1966, an island where gays and lesbians can still face a life sentence for their sexuality.
  • Meanwhile in 1967, after ten years of campaigning from gay rights groups, the Sexual Offences Bill in England and Wales decriminalises homosexuality. The age of consent for gay couples is 21, compared to 16 for heterosexual couples.
  • Canada legalises homosexuality in 1969 but draws criticism when the anal sex age of consent for both gay and straight couples is 18 compared to 16 for vaginal sex.

The 1970s

  • At the beginning of the decade, the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) is founded in Sydney, Australia. Within 12 months local CAMP groups are founded in each capital city.
  • The first official gay pride event in Britain takes place in 1972.
  • The Bahamas joins the Commonwealth in 1973, but would not legalise same-sex activity until 1991.
  • Grenada and Papua New Guinea recognizes the Queen as their monarch in 1974 and 1975. In both countries anal sex is illegal and punishable by up to ten years in prison. In Papua New Guinea gay men who participate in oral sex can go to prison for three years.
  • South Australia is the first state in the country to decriminalise homosexuality in 1975.
  • The Solomon Islands and Tuvalu becomes part of the Queen’s realms in 1978, as well as Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in 1979. In all four countries, male homosexuality remains illegal.

The 1980s

  • In 1981, HIV and AIDs is recognized as a disease across the world. By 2009, the World Health Organization estimated there has been nearly 30 million deaths.
  • Scotland in 1981, and Northern Ireland in 1982, decriminalises homosexuality on the same basis of the 1967 Sexual Offences bill.
  • New South Wales, Australia becomes the first state in the country to outlaw discrimination based on sexuality.
  • Belize joins the Commonwealth in 1981 where gay people can face imprisonment of up to ten years. Under the Immigration Act 1958, it says ‘any prostitute or homosexual’ is outlawed from entering Belize.
  • Caribbean countries Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Kitts and Nevis join the Commonwealth in 1981 and 1983 where it is also illegal to have sex with the same gender.
  • In 1984, the Australian Medical Association removes homosexuality from its list of illnesses and disorders.
  • The last gay man is arrested on 14 December 1984 in Tasmania when he is found having sex with another man on the side of the road in a car. He is sentenced to eight months in jail.
  • New Zealand decriminalises homosexuality in 1986.
  • The United Kingdom sees a setback for gay rights when PM Margaret Thatcher legalises Section 28 in 1988. The law bans ‘the intentional promotion of homosexuality’ in schools.

The 1990s

  • After years of campaigning, Canadian gays and lesbians are allowed to serve openly in the military from 1991. Australia follows in 1992.
  • Sexual activity between consenting adults is legalised in Australia across every state in 1994.
  • The United Kingdom lowers the age of consent for homosexual men to 18 in 1994.
  • In 1999, the UK also allows gays and lesbians to be out in the military, requiring all soldiers to watch videos celebrating LGBT equality as part of their training. Ten years later a study finds the law had ‘no perceivable impact on the effectiveness of the military’.

The 2000s

  • In the 00s, gay rights in the United Kingdom steamrolls. The government agrees in 2001 to an equal age of consent of 16 for gay couples. Four years later people are allowed to legally change their gender, hate crimes based on sexual orientation are outlawed and civil partnerships for gay couples are legalised.
  • Like the UK, New Zealand also enacts legislation in 2005 allowing gay couples to have civil unions.
  • In the same year, the island nation of Nevis stops a cruise ship carrying 110 American gays from docking. A Port authority spokesman tells reporters that Nevis does not want homosexuality ‘to be part of our culture’.
  • In 2006, Jamaica is proclaimed the ‘most homophobic place on Earth’ by human rights groups.
  • After a petition in 2009, Prime Minister of Britain Gordon Brown makes a formal apology to Alan Turing. Conservative leader David Cameron apologises to the gay community for Section 28, saying it had been a mistake and offensive to gay people.

The 2010s

  • At the beginning of 2010, the UK government passes the Equality Act. It guarantees lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people full equality. However it does allow transsexual people to be barred from services if there is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.
  • In July 2010, the United Belize Advocacy Movement files a case in the Supreme Court to denounce the anti-homosexual laws. The Catholic and the Protestant churches react negatively, saying that gay marriage will be next.
  • In 2011, the Barbados government investigates claims gay Bajans were seeking refugee status in Canada. Recent polls say the island country has become more tolerant, and changes to the law may happen.
  • Tony Briffa, believed to be the world’s first intersex mayor, is elected in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, at the end of November 2011.
  • In September 2011, the UK Conservative-Liberal Democrat government announces its plans to legalise civil same-sex marriage in 2015. The legislation is not included in the Queen’s Speech, prompting fears from gay rights groups PM David Cameron would back down after anti-gay religious groups campaigned for inequality.
  • Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee on 2 June 2012.

Queen Elizabeth II is monarch of some of the most homophobic countries in the world.

However there is more debate happening, and the years lining up to her next jubilee could be the most productive of all for gay rights.  

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